This cream cheese frosting without butter is sweet and tangy with a thick and creamy consistency. It is perfect spread on so many sweet treats, from cinnamon rolls, to cakes, to banana bread, brownies, and cookies. You can make it in 5 minutes with only 4 ingredients!
Ever wondered if you make cream cheese frosting without butter? You certainly can! You don't need butter or any other extra ingredients to make a delicious cream cheese frosting that you can spread all over cookies, brownies, carrot cake, and more.
Traditional cream cheese frosting is made by creaming butter and cream cheese together. This helps to create a more sturdy yet light frosting. This version with no butter is as thick without the extra fat! It's a perfect way to slightly lighten red velvet cake or cupcakes and other desserts typically made with it.
My favorite part about this recipe is how simple it is. It only takes 5 minutes to whip up a batch of no butter cream cheese icing with just 4 ingredients. You can customize the flavor, consistency, color, and more. The possibilities are endless!
Here are some notes about the ingredients used. For quantities and the full instructions, see the recipe card below.
- Cream cheese- This is the base of our no butter frosting. Make sure to use softened full-fat cream cheese. This cream cheese will come in a block, not a tub. Low-fat cream cheese will be too runny, especially since we aren't getting stability from butter's extra fat.
- Vanilla extract- This adds the majority of the flavor, so use a high quality pure vanilla extract. Avoid imitation vanilla.
- Salt- A lot of sweet recipes leave out salt, but it's important to use it to offset the sweetness. No one wants a cloyingly sweet frosting! Use finely ground salt so it mixes in well.
- Powdered sugar- Powdered sugar (also known as icing sugar or confectioners sugar) gives the frosting it's structure and sweetness. You don't need to worry about sifting it since most powdered sugar in the US is made with cornstarch, an anti-caking agent.
- Vanilla extract: Substitute vanilla bean paste if needed. You can also use a different extract, like almond, orange, lemon, or maple to change the flavor.
Helpful Equipment and Tools
The only equipment you need is either a 5-quart stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer. A rubber spatula is also helpful for scraping down the sides of the bowl. The instructions below are specifically for a stand mixer but work with a hand mixer as well.
How to Make No Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
STEP 1: First, add the room temperature cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater/paddle attachment.
STEP 2: Beat the ingredients on medium speed until the cream cheese is smooth with no lumps. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
STEP 3: Next, add in half of the powdered sugar. Start the mixer on low so the sugar doesn't fly out of the bowl. "Pulsing" the mixer (turning it on and off rapidly) also helps to get the sugar combined without making a huge mess! Mix on low until smooth.
STEP 4: Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then repeat Step 3 with the second half of powdered sugar. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
Now your frosting is ready to use!
Expert Tips for Success
- Don't overmix or undermix. Make sure to properly mix the ingredients together so they become fluffy just like frosting with butter does. Over/undermixing will result in a runny frosting.
- Make an icing. To make an icing more suitable for drizzling on muffins or cinnamon rolls, add 4 tablespoons of heavy cream.
- Use to frost. While this frosting does have structure from full-fat cream cheese, it won't hold it's shape as well as classic cream cheese frosting. I recommend spreading the frosting rather than piping it. If you want to pipe it, place it in the fridge to thicken for about 20 minutes before piping it through a round tip.
Additions and Variations
There are so many different ways to flavor this frosting, so here are a few ideas to get you started. Don't use warm mix-ins or too many liquid flavorings because they'll make the frosting runny.
This recipe hasn't been tested with any substitutions or variations. If you try adding something, let me know how it goes in the comments.
- Chocolate- Swap ¼ cup of powdered sugar for ¼ cup sifted cocoa powder to make chocolate cream cheese frosting.
- Fruit- Add ½ teaspoon of fruit-flavored extract, a few tablespoons of crushed freeze-dried fruit, or a couple tablespoons of your favorite jam. If you add jam, you may need a little more powdered sugar to get the right consistency.
- Citrus- Add ½ teaspoon of lemon, lime, or orange extract or 1 tablespoon of citrus zest.
- Spices- Flavor your frosting with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or other spices.
- Food coloring- Use a few drops of gel food coloring to color the frosting. Use gel food coloring, not liquid, so the frosting doesn't get too thin.
- Coffee: Mix a few teaspoons of instant coffee with the vanilla extract to make coffee cream cheese frosting.
Ways to Enjoy
I personally love this frosting slathered on small batch brownies or used to fill a chocolate cake. But you can also try it in these recipes:
- Blueberry Chocolate Cake
- Lemon Mug Cake
- Pumpkin Chai Snack Cake
- Apple Cider Cupcakes
- Spiced Apple Cupcakes
- Birthday Cake Sugar Cookies
- Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes
Storage and Freezing
This cream cheese frosting will stay fresh for up to 5 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If the frosting is too hard to use straight out of the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a couple minutes or give it a good stir.
Freeze your frosting in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag for up to 2 months. When you're ready to use, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight or soften on the counter for a few hours. Because the freezing process creates ice crystals, the frosting may be a little less stable once it's thawed, but it'll still be useable and delicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
First, fill the cake with the frosting. Because this frosting isn't as stable as buttercream, the layers might slide around a bit, so be careful! Let it chill in the freezer for 20 minutes before applying a crumb coat. Let the crumb coat chill for 10-20 minutes and add the final layer of frosting and voilà! All done. Store in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve.
If you think your icing is too thin, place it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes first. If it doesn't thicken up after that, try mixing in 2 tablespoons powdered sugar at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Remember, this frosting won't be as fluffy and stable as traditional cream cheese frosting.
If your cream cheese is too cold, the frosting can turn out lumpy. Make sure to let it come to room temperature before using it. This takes about an hour on the counter.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), any food made with cream cheese should be refrigerated after being out for 2 hours at room temperature. This includes the time spent making the frosting.
More Frosting Recipes to Try
Cream Cheese Frosting without Butter
- 1 5-quart stand mixer or electric hand mixer
- 8 ounces softened cream cheese full fat at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- Add room temperature cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon salt
- Beat on medium speed until the cream cheese is smooth with no lumps. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
- Add in half of the powdered sugar and mix on low until smooth.3 cups powdered sugar
- Repeat with the second half of powdered sugar. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute until the frosting is creamy and fluffy.